spin cycle

(44 comments)
July 1, 2008

Busy, busy, busy.

Video of the Moment


krakBOOOOOOOOOM

(1 comment)
July 2, 2008

Man, I've been loving these daily thunderstorms!

Quote of the Moment
"You learn something every day... ...and then forget it every night"
--Dromedary's grandma, after he showed "her how to operate her microwave for the umpteenth time"... from this great b3ta top about wisdom from old folks...

Brilliant Hack of the Moment

--SpindlyQ, founder of Glorious Trainwrecks (who run that game jam I join every month) has made a way of playing the old Mike Tyson boxing game with the GameCube Bongo Controllers... "Mike Tyson's Jungle Beat"! It brings back a buch needed element of physicality to the game.

Personal and Professional Geekery of the Moment
Here mostly for reference: On kind of a lark, but useful for my team at work, a kind of dumb and slow 3D grapher of test results.

But also, a VERY excellent introduction for experienced programmers, Dive Into Python. It's free, you can download the whole thing as a single HTML page... and it doesn't pretend it has to teach you the fundamentals of programming, it just walks you through the structures and pointing out similarities and differences with other languages such as Java and Perl and even VBScript and PowerBuilder.

At work people are pointing out I should be using Python and not Perl. Which is tough... I realize I've been doing Perl for 14 years! But with this introduction, I'm digging Python. It's like a middle ground between Perl and Java. The "white space matters" thing is a bit overplayed (just like "unreadable Perl code" is overdone...) you can put in as much white space as you want, you just need to get the indenting right.


That whole Coors "tells you when its cold" can makes me weep for civilization.
Got my group to call itself "Team Angry Manatee" for at least a month... YES!

let's go team angry manatee

(2 comments)
July 3, 2008

I was delighted to get my team at work to slightly subvert the "name miniproject after fearsome animal" paradigm by calling itself "Team Angry Manatee". I had to swivel around the projector to the whiteboard, and dry erase marker in a cannon, machine guns, a bomb and a helmet over the projected Google images photo of one, but it was worth it.

Joke of the Moment
What's green and smells like yellow paint?
Green Paint.
--from Sickipedia, wouldn't recommend going there unless you're really into the mood for offensive jokes by brits.

Slate Articles of the Moment
For some reason lately I've been stockpiling some interesting Slate articles, never quite getting around to posting them.

Ron Rosenbaum on catchphrases. Some phrases that he finds annoying I find cool and useful and vice versa. I wonder how old he thinks "my bad" is? I remember my girlfriend making jokes about it in 1990 (mishearing it as "my bag" and then translating into french as "mon sac")

William Saletan on hypocricy on human values... interesting meditation on the division between public / semi-private / private, how the first category often has more to do with how we'd like the world to be than we are ourselves. (Which is a positive spin of good old hypocrisy.)

Finally... Paul Collins on whence the semicolon? I must confess my understanding of when to use colons and semicolons is pretty shallow and academic, if that. (But like Paul Robinson says... "The period and the comma are the only lovely marks of punctuation.")


Man, the Run DMC "King of Rock" cameo in Guitar Hero Aerosmith with ONLY Run (or is it DMC?) is kind of depressing
Hmm. 34 years old and I'll still veer off my path to steer towards a pigeon for a bit...

kirkjerkfirewerktoy

(3 comments)
July 4, 2008


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kirkjerkfirewerk - source - built with processing

Just a little something I banged together for the fourth (that's supposed to be a 4 if it's not obvious...) You can either admire the 4s or use the mouse to draw and use it like a sparkler...

Happy Fourth of July!


Why do almost all fans have their highest power setting right next to off?
Apple's consistency hobgoblins: "People use mice, not keyboards, for checkboxes" thus iPhone Form "Next" skips checks but does dropdowns.
EB's charcoal grill reminds me "the 3 things you can gaze at four hours: fire burning, water flowing, other people working."
thought: if you're gonna have a truck to haul your little league team around in, is "I shot the sherrif" the best music choice for the 4th?

new camera time!photos

(2 comments)
July 5, 2008

After dropping my camera at the Celtics parade I bought another Canon much like it -- PowerShot SD850 IS. This has not made me a better photographer.


New camera is bulkier but zoomier. Harvard Square birdie.


EBSO (Wife of EB) wields tongs and fork.



MEB (Mama of EB), also in the backyard for the 4th cookout.


Mac the Dog


The whole EBclan has been enjoying fresh peas-in-the-pod as of late...




Rockport 4th Parade, just fooling around with "Color Accent". There was much red!


I learned about the tradition of "Horribles" parades and the musical groups therein. (Come to think of it, I was totally in that tradition and didn't realize it in '95 or so at the Bunker Hill Monument Halloween Parade.)

The Rockport Parade also had a Precision Lawnchair Drill Team, doing spinning formations in the parade and generally having a grand time. What they lacked in precision they made up for in lawnchairs!


"the new movie criticism" by which i mean i talk about me as much as i do about the movie

(12 comments)
July 6, 2008

EB, JZ and I went to see "Hancock" last night. Of the 4 summer would-be-blockbusters I saw this year (that Hulk, that Indiana Jones, "Wanted", and Hancock) it was pretty clearly my favorite. The juxtaposition of the "shiftless" black male type with the "superpowered being" worked really well... I guess they have that sense of "other" and alienation in common. (Pro-spin: he's then an invulnerable, superstrong guy who can fly. Con-spin: who whitey than talks into putting himself in jail.)

buddy icon from the offical site sort of gets it
This is one of the most kinetic superhero portrayals I've seen -- he has good but not perfect control over his flight, makes slightly rough landings, and the opening hungover, maybe still a little drunk, flight to catch up with a van full of baddies was fantastic. It's different than the usual portrayal of Superman, who seems to have utter mastery of intertia, not just gravity.

Lately I've noticed how strongly I respond to the portrayal of flight in games and movies. Sometimes to JZ's annoyance, like when I'd give up the mission in Earth Defense Force 2017 and just fly the helicopter around (theoretically to use its missiles, but it was a habit I continued even after our handheld weapons were dwarfing its firepower.) Or in GTA4, getting the "helitour" unlocked so I can 'jack copters and soar through Times Square at night was my #1 priority.

Exchange of a Past Moment
"I wish I could fly..."
"...I wish you could fly too."
--Me and Michael Ullman, I think in his non-fiction writing class at Tufts. circa 1995 or so. It was a very good response to my almost-deliberately-random wistfulness.


Anyway, back to Hancock. EB + JZ saw more of the "surprises" blatantly telegraphed than I did, saw the twists coming a mile away. My mom was always better than me at that too. I guess I take too much at face value. And I know various comics have done the whole "ordinary guy with powers" thing, and at times the plot gets a little strained and convoluted with some strong human elements.

Over all I thought it was a great flick...

Related Article of the Moment
Slate on movie criticism and boxoffice performance. The upshot: while critics might seem a bit out of touch, with their ratings largely unrelated to box-office performance, it feels like that performance is mostly a factor of how many screens the movie opens on. If you look at the per-screen results, the unwashed masses and the critics are in better alignment.

Nice idea from the article:
If I were a publisher, though, I'd hire the best critic I could find and have him or her write two reviews: a short one, to be printed the day or week the movie opens and that gives away little of the plot but tells readers whether it's good or bad (the service aspect); and a longer, more in-depth review that discusses the entire film, to be posted online (the critical aspect). Then I'd put a message board beneath the in-depth review and sit back. Most people don't want to hear about a movie before they've seen it but would love to discuss it afterward. Boy, would they ever.
That reminds me of some of the subjective and long-term perspective that "New Gaming Journalism" is aiming for.


iPhone... "dead strips", boo. Free replacement from Apple Store despite being EXACTLY 1 year... yay! *Everything* synching - double yay!
So sick of slow websites where I can view source and see everything is pretty much loaded, but nothing shows because of offsite includes.

[wonder tic-tac]

(6 comments)
July 7, 2008

The bad: my iPhone developed a "dead strip", an area of the screen (bottom half of the top half) that wasn't responding to touch.

The worse: this happened a year to the day from my purchase of it, and I thought I read something about a year warranty.

The good: the Apple Store was happy to give me a new one!

The better: I was expecting that only stuff that synched with other programs would be saved, but when I hooked the new device up to my PC, all of my old settings got restored, memos, links, histories, etc etc!

The note of caution: I guess this kind of a known problem with iPhones, and I'm vaguely nervous about the iPod Touch Josh, who is now in Japan, got when he was here on my recommendation. Ah well... we can burn that bridge when we come to it!

Observation of the Moment
The fly swatter is in fact intended to be useless, at least as far as the destruction of flies is concerned. It is not intended to kill flies. Instead it embodies a gesture of protest, of refusal. Of irritation. It says that this should not be, that this buzzing and droning is pointless. That these creatures are objectionable, insalubrious and stupid. That one must refuse them any quarter, shoo them away. It yells at them that there will no mercy, that they will all end up squashed, flattened, obliterated, without exceptions. Clearly, it has no intention of putting an end to a single one of them. But it flaps and creates a wind, so that they will remove themselves for ever. Which no doubt occasionally happens.

The fly swatter is not a utilitarian object, at least not primarily so. It is pure gesture, nothing more.

--Roger-Pol Droit, from "How Are Things". Like "Still Life With Woodpecker" or "The Mezzanine", thoughts about inanimate objects, whether or not they're able to return the favor. The structure of this book reminded me a bit of "Einstein's Dreams", but also had a rather unfortunate French feel at times.


pentomino heh, I was tempted by the "full price" version at Brookstone. Though at least try the other; maybe QA is variable, not just bad?
Too bad that "Just Do It" is such a bit of corporate speak, it's not a bad mandate for real life. One coworker had "JFDI" over his monitor.
I've used "What Are You Waiting For?" as a non-Nike version of "Just Do It"; it's a bit deeper but less pointed.
madonna/a-rod? sheesh. you KNOW she's thinking monroe/dimaggio...

hot town summer time in the city

(5 comments)
July 8, 2008

I swear Mission Hill parking is a cruel game.

My current favorite are these temporary "no parking on either side of the street" signs, showing the two dates they'll be doing work. (generally today and tomorrow.)

Rather than, you know, actually fixing the street, they seem to be enjoying just coming back every other day, covering up the old dates with white tape, and then writing in the next two days. (So in theory there's no weekday parking at all, except some people seem wise to or utterly ignorant of this game, to the extent they still parked there following the street cleaning side restriction.)

Half the streets in Mission Hill seem to be in this twilight zone of non-parking.

So this morning I got called by my Uncle, who told me a cop stopped by and asked that I move my car from what I thought was a safe spot since they might want to move the dumpster that day. I had to travel back home and prowl for a street unwatched by the steely gaze of whoever's putting up those "don't park here for two days" signs.

Movie Dialog of the Moment
"Have you slept with anyone?"
"No. Have you?"
"...No."
"That was a long pause...
[...]
...I guess it doesn't really matter"
"No it doesn't"
[...]
"You got bruises on your body."
[...]
"...Whatever happens in the end
I don't want to lose you as my friend."
"I promise...
I will never be your friend.
No matter what. Ever."
"If we fuck I'm going to feel
like shit tomorrow."
"That's okay with me."
[...]
"I love you.
I never hurt you on purpose."
"I don't care."
[...]
"Want to see my view of Paris?"
"-ok."


--from "Hotel Chevalier", a kind of prologue to "Darjeeling Limited". Each [...] represents a pause with embraces and kissing.

how does it smell? terrible!

(9 comments)
July 9, 2008

Driving down to Virgina tonight to help mama mia move.

Article of the Moment
Slate's Elizabeth Zierah writing on anosmia, losing your sense of smell. My dad suffered from this when he was hit with spinal meningitis. His first, guy-with-his-RN-degree diagnosis? "When you are struck with spinal meningitis, your farts don't smell!"

The article makes me realize how much I take it for granted, appreciate the ambient tapestry of scents that really form the backdrop of our lives. And the article mentioned how scary it is not to be able to do your own personal "sniff test"... maybe you're reeking but it's really hard to know. (They should sell some kind of gadget...)

Smell is funny, though... nebulous. Our vocabulary for scents is relatively limited, and while a scent can be enormously evocative it's often tough to pin down the pieces-parts of it.

Logo of a Past Moment
--Old Logo for my current employer NOKIA! Love it.



Bleh. Taking some photographic composition courses makes me look at some of my older snapshots with a harsher eye.
IRS just sent me a notice for an upcoming check for $79.10. GWB, color me under-stimulated.

hello from new jersey or something

(2 comments)
July 10, 2008

On the road again...

Quote of the Moment
"Why shouldn't things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go very well together." -- George Santayana

Link of the Moment
Sorry I Missed Your Party. People's party photos in flik'r, snarkily commented upon.


So few drum solos actually have much rhythm...
love driving my little car in manhattan and still having basic street literacy
Wow. In Virginia they still do that flash your lights to warn about upcoming speedtraps thing.

giant plants and lobstershistory

(10 comments)
July 11, 2008

Hello from Virgina.

Less virginal than I might have thought. Actually, a heapload of tattoos, more per capita than I think I see in Boston.

Photos of the Moment

This is the original Kirk Tree! An umbrella plant planted on the day I was born. It turns out reports of its demise were greatly exaggerated and it has bounced back beautifully from its previous infirmity.

As you can see its nearly as tall as I am, and always has been...

My mom has the Kirk Tree next to the dehumidifier, which means it gets watered from water pulled from the air, which is kind of cool.

Meanwhile, back in Boston...

I don't know if the Legal Seafood at the Prudential Center just keeps this guy around to wow the tourists or what, but I was pretty wow'd. 18 lbs of pure lobster joy! The estimate is this beast is older than I am. You think they could at least give some dignity, but whatever.


Walking in "Old Town" Alexandria,I feel like such a yankee. (in the non-baseball sense)

"yeah, I think people are just getting stuper. stupider." -scottramble

(7 comments)
July 12, 2008

So a few weeks ago that Atlantic Is Google Making Us Dumber? article was making the rounds. I finally read it, and wasn't crazy about it. The background was excellent, and talking about how technological changes modifies our way of thinking, like how touchtyping let Nietzsche avoid migraines and start writing more in bon mots, was great. But the final conclusions weren't solid.

There seems to be two main lines of attack: one is that Google is making us soft, that we're going to retain less in our heads since such vast amounts of information -- no, not just vast amounts - terrific methods of getting to the right, small bit of information, with connections to more - are always at hand.

The other line of attack seems to use Google as a convenient shorthand, or possibly whipping boy, for soundbite culture in general. That so many of us our losing our ability to focus for medium or long stretches.

(Disclaimer: I'm increasingly aware that I might not have a "representative" way of thinking, and that too often I'll forget that not everyone approaches problems like I do, and therefore my analysis is suspect as I start to apply it generally.)

Trying to get to the root cause of why having access to lots of information can lead to shorter attention spans is tricky. I think of how I approach long books, on "interestingness density". A really long book better have MANY interesting ideas, or otherwise the return on time and thought invested suffers.

Regular readers of the site will know I've been formulating this idea of "interestingness", sometimes even "interestingness as a moral good", for a while now. Maybe I then owe it to myself to try and peel back the layers of it, find out what makes interestingness interesting, or if there's a way to define or predict what is interesting besides "I know it when I see it"...

Interestingness can be shallow, that's for sure, prefering a great paragraph to a good essay, and the novel and the nifty over the prolonged and fretted-over. But it doesn't have to be; a good technical account can go extremely deep and still maintain a level of novel ideas, or rich and non-intuitive but useful metaphors that make the subject fascinating.

Bringing this back to the main attention span issue... maybe people are using this same kind of lens to judge how long they want to look into something, because something more interesting might be just around the corner. Or maybe we've become more demanding consumers, and getting the gist of something is enough.

Also: I'm more aware of how I tend to speak in parentheses. So often the parenthetical aside is the loveliest part of a multipart thought.

Quote of the Moment
I am nuts for information-- as are we all, I suspect, most real men and women. I can't get enough of the stuff. When I'm clicking through the hundreds of E-mail messages that await me each morning, sometimes I imagine I'm a mighty information whale, sifting through thousands of tiny (but nutritious!) krill bits. Yum! Whether it's reading the cereal box or scanning the advertisment slide show some genius thought to project on the big screen at the movie theater, my appetite for information is unquenchable.
--Joshua Quittner. Actually I first recorded this in 1998...

Google Feature of the Moment
Speaking of Google, Anthony gave me a tour of the NYC office on my way down to VA, when I stopped over to pick up a copy of Wii Fit he graciously had located for me. He pointed out that Google DOES have a feature I was looking for, namely providing date-ordered search results when you're searching a site that has a blog-like format, but you have to click on "Blogs" under "More" to activate it. I think it should be an option whenever you do a "site:"-specific search, and that site in question is known to have a Blog-ish format.


Wii Fit's bad posture, jutted hip model is much sexier than the same model standing w/ good posture. Also the voice is Navi meets GlaDOS.
moving on

wii fitful

(3 comments)
July 13, 2008

Here are some cropped screenshots from Wii Fit, and the accompanying text:
  
This is how a person looks when they stand with more weight on their right leg. This illustration shows what a person looks like when they're standing correctly.

I learned my lesson -- bad posture is sexier than good!
Other states make MA look wussy, in terms of allowing the metal bit so you don't have to keep squeezing the damn gas pump handle.
"Not all men are Charlie Chaplin" --MELAS- talking about how old he had kids, but what a visual!

northern bound

(6 comments)
July 14, 2008

Home again, home again, jiggidy jug.

Got to hang around the Jersey shore yesterday with the extended family, cousins and all that. People weren't allowed to do much besides wade because of the rough riptides, which were kind of fun.

Video of the Moment

--Mascot Bloopers make me laugh. So many big furry things, so little dignity

Article of the Moment
Clay Shirky' on group dynamics, what lets online communities self-organize and survive, and what patterns they often fall into.


how many college bands are going to be named "terrorist fist bump"?

you CAN argue with mathematics!

(13 comments)
July 15, 2008

Ha HA! EB and his tape measure was so wrong in his estimation that the loveseat/foldabed was too big to be maneuvered through the hall. JZ and I were able to wrangle it through. Now I should be able to get the bottommost layout I thought of working, with the backroom by the galley kitchen dedicated to entertainment, and the front room a bedroom and office-y workspace.

My whole place is chaos right now, but I'm hoping getting to the layout I was hoping for will motivate me in getting fully settled.

Cartoon of the Moment
--from Basic Instruction's How to Complain About Work.


nuthin' like that 1:30AM baseball

(4 comments)
July 16, 2008

Stayed up (well, mostly) through all 15 innings of the All-Star game. Kind of crazy to see that, almost every extra inning had a feeling like "this could be it!", including the bases loaded a few different times. Red Sox coach Francona, heading up the AL, was about out of pitchers, and was determined not to overuse Scott Kazmir who had recently pitched a long game for close divisional rivals Tampa Bay... After him? "There was nobody else," [Francona] said. "Maybe (Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan) Longoria. He's got a good curveball."

Video of the Moment

--JZ sent me this (err, vaguely PG13ish) video: Sales Guy vs Web Dude. It gets so many delicious details right, from the sneaky passing of blame to random pressure tactics and overall idiocy... favorite line: "There's no way to go back. You can't arrange them by penis."

Link of the Moment
Weirdly compelling, the last 50 photos posted to LJ. Nice eclectic variety...
Sports radio guys can't stop talking about how much home run derbies suck. Pshaw!
My fear and loathing of tv commercials for prescription medicine is almost balanced by the ridiculous and often embarrassing disclaimers.
Wow. A bad call at 2nd base (a tag that wasn't) in the bottom of the 11th may be the game decider. Baseball needs frickin' replays.
Surprised that no one knows exactly how the "Rebel Yell" of the US Civil War sounded. No one thought to ask before all the vets died?

roboclarinet

(5 comments)
July 17, 2008

I have not much to say today so here is a robot playing clarinet:

I wonder if you could build a robot trumpet player, like I envisioned in my youth. Seems like the embouchure might be even tougher to get right. (Searches for robot and trumpet together on youtube pull up fakey sounding stuff that I don't believe is real.)
Heh... somehow the Palm graffiti "E written as backwards 3" has become a permanent part of my printing - it is a bit more efficient.

hooked on mnemonicshistory

(6 comments)
July 18, 2008

So back in the day I used to commute to Tufts for my summer job, and I remembered "CAB" - Copley, Arlington, Boylston -- as the stops before Park Street, where I would hop on the red line. Now the trick is "SPCA", like the animal folks... Symphony, Prudential, Copley, Arlington, since Arlington is where I work.

Yay mnemonics!

that rocks.

(121 comments)
July 19, 2008

Sorry for not lavishing much attention on this site as of late!

Rocks of the Moment
--An excerpt from videogamerocks.jpg, a very clever piece about how various video games would render the same small pile of rocks. (local mirror)

bought a 2gb CF card my 2004 GPS... the desktop software took > 2 hours to generate full USA maps!

manspidergame

(49 comments)
July 20, 2008

To view this content, you need to install Java from java.com
manspider - source - built with processing

My entry for Klik of the Month Klub #13: manspider! (The theme was beards. So he has a beard!)

Another springy physics-y game, here your goal is to catch the flies you need to supplement your rapidly diminishing health bar. Click on the floating green leaf pods to throw a web strand and try to consume flies for both health and points.

the wired jungle

(13 comments)
July 21, 2008

My main task in helping my mom unpack in Viginia (besides providing a bit of grunt labor) was to setup the computer and the television- the cable, the DVD, and three or four video game systems.

MELAS (My Ever Lovin' Aunt Susan) asked if the rejiggering of the AV stuff was basically easy for me, and just a bunch of work, or if it was complex. It was easy, I assured her, and then explained a bit about matching white and red and yellow connectors for the sound and picture, and recognizing and knowing an "S-Video" plug, etc.

But then I thought about it, and realized that with a moderately advanced setup (and in this case we have two A/V switches, one that's "TV / DVD / Games" and the other that selects the actual game system) it gets pretty complex. Or rather, complex enough so that if it's not working you don't immediately know what's going on.

And I could see that maybe that's where I do have a skillset she doesn't, or at least not as refined... it's a process very similar to debugging a computer program: figure out what assumptions you're making, and then isolate and challenge each assumption in turn so you know what's going wrong. (OK, the Wii picture isn't showing up... does it show up when I plug it directly into the TV? Yes, so the TV is probably on the right channel. Now what if I plug it into the first switch box? Still works. How about into the second switch box? Problem. OK, so there's likely a loose plug or something between the two switch boxes.... etc etc etc)

This process comes easily and naturally for me... so easily I don't know if it's something semi-instinctive, something I figured out for myself growing up, or something that was drilled into me in computer science class and then refined through years of practice as a professional programmer. Quite possibly the latter, though it might be some of each, that I had that kind of temperament that led me to my eventual career field...

And does this tie in to my general hemming and hawing, my strong reluctance to speak in absolutes, and reliance on saying stuff like "I don't see it here" rather than "it's not here"?


This morning I had detailed dreams about playing World of Warcraft, which felt kind of weird because I've never actually played it.
Aw, nuts....Jeff Hawkins thinks Searle is right about the Chinese Room thought experiment??

an open-ish letter on indy gaming

(10 comments)
July 22, 2008

So this is a letter I wrote my friend SpindleyQ, who set up the Glorious Trainwrecks site that is at the core of my current game making efforts. Every once in a while I pester him with thoughts about my game-making delusions of grandeur...

Anyway, he mentioned the Poppenkast 10800 seconds open compo... that's 3 hours, one hour more than I used for manspider the other day, so I updated the game with sounds, wing animations, and a title screen.


Hey man

Thanks for pointing out the poppenkast compo. I actually was pimping GT a little too much, realized that's not a neighborly first post, so I retracted a bit.

Guess I'm back to my usual pondering the indie games community, such as it is!

I suppose it's like a lot of indy scenes, art or music or all that... always people around who seem more dedicated and/or talented but are still totally obscure, so you realize you gotta just take pleasure in what you do for its own sake...

There's so much volume out there! Like reading about TOJam, which I hadn't even heard of, but there's so much out there on a bigger scale than I usually play in -- people who work on teams, semi-serious music and art, tools that run at a different gear than Java Processing... (plus my age old fear that I'm missing the spirit of GT) Probably the biggest issue is that I don't do anything out side these little 2 and 3 hour boxes... and kind of lack the drive to, in some ways.

(See, some of us don't seem to be on the having offspring trail so we have to time to fret about these things -- probably a lot easier to be unka kirky than a bona fide daddy!)

Sigh. Am I actually looking to indy gaming for help with meaning and purpose in life? :->

Game of the Moment
Speaking of games, I spent a number of hours on Fantastic Contraption last night, a great Flash based building puzzle game (kind of like sodaplay back in the day but with more of a goal-oriented structure) With FC, I like how part of the reward is seeing how other people solved it. It's humbling though... I probably wouldn't believe fancy walkers and catapults were possible within the system if other people weren't building them!


Now that I keep track of my reading over the course of a year, sometimes I fear I'm reading to add to a score...
Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment is making me angry! I want to argue with someone about it, it's so smug in its delusion!

on hawkins, intelligence, and searle's chinese roomramble

(11 comments)
July 23, 2008

So I've been twittering about Searle's Chinese Room lately, might as well ramble about it at more length and get it out of my system... (kisrael.com, come for the quotes and links, stay for the long pseudo-intellectual grumblefests!)

I'm reading Jeff Hawkins' "On Intelligence", and from what I've heard it seems pretty promising... with ideas that the core of intelligence is a memory-prediction system, and that AI researchers do themselves a disservice by not looking at the actual physical mechanisms of the brain, just like neuroscientists do themselves a disservice by not trying to take a step back and focus on the large process rather than specific subsystems. That all seems really promising.

So far he has two points I disagree with... one is that Searle's Chinese Room is a satisfactory demonstration that "behaviorial equivalence is not enough", that you could somehow fake intelligence without being intelligent. The second is this idea that intelligence is strictly an internal property. He might be not too far off on the second idea, but from a utilitarian standpoint, a 100% internal intelligence is of zero interest to us... one could imagine this group of hyperintelligent rocks, all with this rich internal state that is this lovely model of the whole environment, able to make simulations and predictions with stunning accuracy, but if there is zero interaction with the outside world, who cares? These smartrocks are indistinguishable from, you know, rocks! (I remember writing a poem about this in high school, a rock that figure out world peace and all that, but couldn't tell anyone 'cause it was a rock.) Down this path lies stuff like Greg Egan's "Permutation City", where a whole field of floating dust specks might be intelligent, if we just knew how to interpret /communicate with it, a kind of weird pantheism, or at least beleif in pan-intelligence.

So...the Chinese Room. You can read Hawkins restatement of the thought experiment here. He concludes that "no matter how cleverly a computer is designed to simulate intelligence by producing the same behavior as a human, it has no understanding and it is not intelligent".

I find this conclusion absurd. First, while this is an abstract thought experiment and thus a huge amount of handwaving is permitted, it's important to note how hyper-complex the "big book of instructions and all the pencils and scratch paper he could ever need" would be if the setup is going to effectively simulate a person conversing intelligently in Chinese. It's an important thing to note, because part of Searle's argument is secretly an appeal to intuition, and lines like "after all, it's just a book, and books can't think!" will come up but that is terribly misleading because ignores the overwhelming scope of that book... it needs contains "simple" abstract symbol manipulations that can "fake" someone who has a deep knowledge of the world, Chinese culture, history, itself, the laws of cause and effect, a sense of humor, what it means to be in love -- in short, everything necessary to convince the person passing in the notes and reading the responses that there is a Chinese speaker inside there. That book would need to be almost unimaginably huge and complex to pull this off.

But say we grant the theoretical possibility of this book. There is a perfectly valid answer to "where does the understanding lie in this scenario?", a reply formulated shortly after the original idea was proposed, and it's called the "Systems Reply'... the man inside might not understand Chinese, and a static book and pile of scratch paper certainly doesn't understand Chinese, but the System as a whole... man, book, paper, room-- absolutely does. For me this is one of those ideas that I almost can't believe isn't intuitively and universally obvious.

Searle's response is to say, ok, well what if the man memorizes the book, and has a good enough memory to do all the steps in his head... There! He now can speak Chinese without knowing Chinese! (As I think Dennett points out, he now knows Chinese but in the "wrong way".) Going back to the idea of the room, I guess the idea is that because there are certain things the odd intelligence of room, man, book can't do, we're not counting it as "true intelligence". Oddly enough, for me this goes back to the idea of the hyperintelligent rocks, in that the issue is one of information getting in and out. Ask the Chinese Room about a beautiful grassy meadow, and it talks about the meadow. Searle seems to argue, though, that it doesn't really understand what a meadow is, it's just doing abstract symbol manipulation. But if enough is going on inside that you can ask it ongoing questions about the meadow, what it feels like, how the grass gently floats on the wind, etc, and are satisfied by the humanness of the answers, to say that there's no "real" understanding on all that scrap paper, or in that book, or with the diligent, boring work of that man is just being ornery, and terribly biased against ways of being intelligent that don't physically resemble our own brains. So just like the guy who 'internalized' the Chinese Room might not have access to his understanding of Chinese like someone who learned Chinese the usual way, we might not be able to comprehend the internal states of the physical Chinese Room, but I can't see there's any way of deeply faking understanding without having understanding.

(Someone on the Wikipedia page comments points out how, sadly, too often school can look like a big Chinese room, where a kid might be given a statement like "the heart is associated with the flow of blood', and later be given a question like 'what is the heart associated with the flow of? A. snot B. blood C. poop'... thus becoming a simple Chinese Room that can answer a basic question about biology by pattern recognition, with no true sense of meaning or depth.)

So I'm still optimistic about Hawkins books... he may be more concerned with the layman's understanding of computers, and arguing that an intelligent system will operate very little like the main part of a computer does. (Even if the end result was some kind of "brain simulation" that happens to run on a traditional-style computer, kind of a neuronic VR... I'm not far enough along to know if he would accept the plausibility of that or not.) Still, his begging the question of whether a Chinese Room would have understanding rankles me a great deal.
firefox spellcheck FAIL: temprement -> procurements, procurement, procurement's, premenstrual, excremental, Add to dictionary. Yeesh.

everything matteredramble

(6 comments)
July 24, 2008

So, following up yesterday's rant about the Chinese Room...

Reading further into the book, I see what Hawkins is up to. Around 100 pages in he writes
If Searle's Chinese Room contained a similar memory system that could make predictions about what Chinese characters would appear next and what would happen next in the story, we could say with confidence that the room understood Chinese and understood the story. We now see where Alan Turing went wrong. Prediction, not behavior, is the proof of intelligence.
So now we see where Hawkins went wrong... Turing specified a judge looking to determine if the conversation partner is a human or a computer, and is permitted to ask questions that could not be answered without having a normal human's ability to predict the flow of a conversation, to fill in the gaps. Thus Hawkins use of the Chinese Room is a giant strawman, where he might be using the room as a stand in for "computers as they are generally used now" (with a CPU, long and short term memory, following programs step by step, etc) and a weak form of the Turing test (fooling a Chinese speaker who probably wasn't having that deep of a conversation to begin with) and saying that this test can be passed by a machine that isn't really thinking, which is view so weak it's tough to argue against.

For Hawkins, and I think he makes a strong case for this, prediction - a non-stop giant flow of expectation and comparison with reality - is the tool and hallmark and perhaps even necessary component of intelligence. He is probably taking for granted Searle's idea of "Strong AI" vs "Weak AI"; some proponents of the former would argue that even a simple thermostat has a (extremely) rough form of consciousness, that it in effect "wants" the room to be a certain temperature and "acts" according to that desire. Hawkins sees a bigger, unbridgeable gap between that kind of simple mechanism and generalized intelligence, rather than a continuum, and feels that he has isolated the crucial difference.

I like when I read a book about how the brain and consciousness might function, and suddenly I feel more self-aware of my own internal thought process.

Quote of the Moment
"Sure it mattered. When you get to my age you discover that everything mattered. Life isn't a series of good and bad choices. It's harder to steer it one way or the other than most people think. You just get pulled along. You look back and you wonder 'could I have changed the course of my life?' Maybe you could've ... but it would probably have taken a tremendous force of will."
--Old Man in Seth's "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken", a graphic novel I just read. The man was a friend of "Kalo", a New Yorker cartoonist the main semi-autobiographical main character is trying to find information about. (It turns out Kalo is made up by Seth (pen name of Gregory Gallant), though he throws in some convincing mockups of Kalo cartoons at the end that really make the quest feel real.)


I think I should let myself be hungry more -- "full" as default is probably not good. Conversely... diet coke and creme de menthe altoids?

photo time!photos

(7 comments)
July 25, 2008

Man this site has had a lot of talking as of late. Lets get some pictures!

Flies are dirty, dirty, dirty!


I am delighted every time I see one of the burly workman deconstructing the hallway in my office using a "Henry" vacuum cleaner:

Road photos! Was crazy about the inter-storm light last night...

Finally, one shot not taken by me, but I love it: EBBaby on a fender of the trailer they're using as they move this weekend.


Incidentally I've changed the layout of kisrael.com to allow for slightly larger photos to be posted. Good? Or does the readability of paragraphs suffer too much?


Dig neuroscience books-fun to think about thinking, and if my brainwork is on the unusual side, or if my mental life is par for the course
katwinx "bring out the gimp! ... so we can show him this property's lovely, lovely floor coverings."
consciousness is like eyesight. peripheral vision is supper-blurry but we don't notice 'cause everywhere we look is in focus.

a gig's a gighistory

(1 comment)
July 26, 2008

Not much time to write today... when you have too sets of friends moving on the same weekend, things get a bit hectic.

Also, I had to blow off Christa's party which made me sad.

Anecdote of the Moment
i remember an exchange I had with Elvin Jones, Coltrane's drummer. I had seen him so many times he thought he knew me. One night he sat down at my table and asked me what I was doing. You a student? I said no, I was teaching. Then he asked my friend, who was embarrassed to admit that he was a bank messenger. Elvin shrugged his shoulders, and said, "It's a gig."

A gig's a gig..

--Michael Ullman, Tufts Professor and Music Critic... after relating his pitch-perfect I wish you could fly, too anecdote I wrote him, and may have struck a slightly apologetic tone about how I had had the English major but it was the Computer Science major that was paying the bills...anyway, he always told the best stories and had this huge repertoire of anecdotes about from his experiences with musicians, major and minor.


Least likely song interpretation ever: Veronika's English teacher in Germany swore "Under the Boardwalk" was about bugs under the floor.
Damn, over a decade into the Internet revolution and uhaul is still bozos at a counter with paperwork and a half hour wait.
Friend help friends move. Dumb friends agree to help two sets of friends move over one weekend.

[Where Do Homosexuals Get All Their Energy]

(4 comments)
July 27, 2008

Today's title was the best Spam headline I've noticed in a while.

Quote of the Moment
"There is no reciprocity. Men love women, women love children, children love hamsters."
-- Alice Thomas Ellis

Article of the Moment
I guess I've always had a thing for mascots in general. Here is a slate piece on hatin' on the Beijing Fuwa mascots, which had a link to this page on all the old Olympic mascots.



Don't get the urge for pillows with covers more decorative than comfortable. Then again I may never understand the urge to make a bed...

hungy hungry hippocampus

(6 comments)
July 28, 2008

Big weekend of helping people move in, including a side trip all the way out to Westfield.

acrobat
beast of a catapult
Had some time on my own, and finally managed to beat all 20 levels of Fantastic Contraption. Of all the ones I did and saved, acrobat is probably the niftiest... my solution for the final one is a serious beast. The site has a whole forum with people talking about it, and also people are posting original level designs and even a way of viewing other folk's solutions to those custom designs. While I'm proud of myself for having gotten through the original 20 levels, I think now I'm content to admire the cleverness of completed solutions rather than struggle on on my own...

The community is great, and paging through other people's solutions, sometimes I found myself giggling out loud.

Passage of the Moment
I have noticed that, as I get older, I have trouble remembering new things. For example, my children remember the details of most of the theatrical plays they have seen in the past year. I can't. Perhaps this is because I have seen so many plays in my life that rarely do I see anything truly new. New plays fit into memories of past plays, and the information just doesn't make it to my hippocampus. For my children, each play is more novel and does reach the hippocampus. If this is true, we could say the more you know, the less you remember.
--Jeff Hawkins, "On Intelligence". I ended up like linking this book very much, despite how he favors Searle over Turing, and a few times when I think he underestimates the summarization ability of various functions of the brain. His core idea is that the real key to the mind and consciousness is neocortex... even going so far as to say that "consciousness is what it feels like to have a cortex". He sees the neocortex as a hierarchical memory/prediction/pattern recognition system with the hippocampus at the very top...lower levels recognize patterns and send summary patterns on up, higher levels send predictions of what they'd expect to see next in the pattern on down. When something pattern is novel, it goes up all the way to the top to the hippocampus, where it has a shot at becoming a memory. (And people with a damaged hippocampus often can't form memories.)

I find this viewpoint very compatible with my introspection, and helps explains a lot of mental phenomena, from the power of visualization to our love of pattern in music and art, to why we can rely on mental autopilot sometimes.



w00t, just beat all 20 levels of "fantastic contraption" - now I feel stupidly smart, some of those other builders are so clever...
I don't have much against the guy, but so weird that we have a general whose last name is phonetically "betray us" - self-writing snark!
Dumb enough to drop your iced latte at the soup-r-salad. Gilding the lily for it to be some kind of bring your daughter to work day.

he's a brainiac, brainiac, on the flo-o-or

(7 comments)
July 29, 2008

One final note on Hawkins' "On Intelligence"... he describes the neocortex as being a 6 or so level hierarchy of neurons, with each layer providing another level of abstraction and pattern recognition.

This reminded me of the description of Superman's foe Brainiac as possessing a "12th level intellect". That would make total sense in this model, 6 more levels of neurons (or whatever) could grant him superhuman abilities to analyze, pick out patterns, etc etc. (Of course the blinking lights attached to head probably help as well.)

It's a minor "life imitating art" moment, like how Star Trek's computers draining enough power to dim the lights seemed like silly fiction to me when I was comparing it to my Commodore 64, which seemed to operate at a steady state, but now I'm all too aware that running computationally expensive things like movies and fancy games on modern laptops and smartphones will drain battery life and make things run hotter.

Quote of the Moment
"Money comes and money goes. The days just go."
--"J sub D" quoting some young punk on Carpe Dieming... sure, it's a bit of the folly of youth, and money doesn't generally arrive unless asked, but it's a good point.


I feel... I dunno, malleable? After reading the Hawkins book on the mind maybe. F Scott Fitzgerald Tender is the Night is great or terrible
Still a bursting-at-the-seams with stuff I need to get rid of work in progress, but got my apt. settled enough to vacuum. Yay Guest Prep!

we can't help but sing

(16 comments)
July 30, 2008

The other month on loveblender.com Marshall Hann (Blessed32) wrote a work called Purgatory starting
I am supine,
staring at the sky
thinking that
existence is so fragile;
We are all born
fiercely,
quietly,
determined
to find a way out
of what we'll do
for the rest of our lives
We are all
so lost,
yet still,
we can't help but sing
I picked it for the front page, quoting the final line. The author asked why I liked it so much and my answer was:
Well, fundamentally, I just love the sentiment that yeah, life is a challenge and a struggle so much of the time, but even then, there is an imperative to rejoice just the unimaginable privelege of being alive, and the added blessing of being aware of being alive, of the universe and our place in it.
Just mentioning it here because I think it's a good thing to remember, and well put here.

A little more often than usual lately I've had that "Is This All There Is?" feeling going to bed, how weird it is to be alive, how weird it is that it ain't no how permanent.


There is always a sadness in the echoes of an emptied apartment.

ESCape! ESCape!

(16 comments)
July 31, 2008

Ugh, I am in such an aggressively craptastic mood right now it's kind of pathetic.

Quote of the Moment
"I think you've clicked 'yes' a few too many times when you should've just ESCaped and gotten out of there."
"Honey, you've just described the story of my life."
--Working with my Aunt on her laptop, which has a bit of, if not malware outright, general toolbar and crapware.


The more expensive the car, the less bad you feel about the ticket on the windshield...
SpindleyQ Yay! Welcome to our crew of "another jerk with an iphone"!
I am in the grumpiest of moods and I'm not sure why. I didn't even want to read on the T this morning, just kind of sit and sulk.